According to statistics, New Mexico ranks second in the nation for the number of senior residents who go hungry each day.

In fact, many seniors must choose between filling medical prescriptions, paying bills and putting food on the table. According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), nearly 10 million older adults are at risk of hunger and malnutrition – 10 million people! If that number seems staggering, it should.The true depth of hunger in America is not widely understood, primarily because it is often a problem that hides in plain sight. Most seniors in particular don’t want to talk about the issue and they don’t exactly wear large placards around their necks that say, “I’m hungry and need help.” Many have a difficult time even acknowledging that they need some form of assistance. “It’s often an issue of pride,” revealed Wendy Cook, marketing and communications director for Comfort Keepers of Roswell, Carlsbad and Artesia. “They don’t want to admit they are deciding between paying bills or buying groceries, so it’s very important that we support our seniors in all the ways we can.”

The face of hunger in America is changing. Due in large part to a weakened economy and an aging population, the problem of senior hunger, or food insecurity, in America has deepened. The status of older adults in the job market has worsened, with the unemployment rate for Americans aged 50 and older having doubled in just the past four years. On average, people 55 and over who lose their jobs are out of work for an average of an entire year. All of this makes putting food on the table increasingly difficult.

Now that we’ve given you the statistics and shown you the need, let’s move on to the more positive side of things and focus what on some local people and organizations are doing to make a difference.

Feed Seniors Now Food Drive

Each year, Comfort Keepers offices around the country hold Feed Seniors Now food drives to benefit the Feeding America® network and applicable local food banks. Comfort Keepers of Roswell, Carlsbad and Artesia is no exception. Beginning February 15th, Comfort Keepers, along with J.O.Y. Center Roswell, will host their annual food drive benefiting congregate participants at the J.O.Y. Center, a bustling hub that offers activities and meals for local seniors. According to Executive Director Monica Duran, hundreds of senior adults visit the Roswell J.O.Y. Center each day, many of whom receive assistance with transportation. A smaller number of seniors are able to drive themselves to the center, yet something as seemingly simple as driving to the grocery store, shopping, purchasing and transporting the food back home is not as feasible. The food collected at the Feed Seniors Now food drive is designed to combat the struggles that seniors face when it comes to putting food on the table. “The food drive is making a difference for them because they are taking the food home, and it’s one less worry for them,” Monica explained. “Sometimes they can’t go grocery shopping, or if they do have the means, they don’t have anyone to take them shopping or help them unload their groceries. This food drive is big.”
Another reason the food drive is important for congregates at the center is because while their noon-time meals are provided, the center does not provide evening or weekend meals since they are closed during those times. “The food drive is a way for us to make sure they have food at home when they’re not here with us,” Monica asserted.

When items are donated to the food drive, they are separated into categories. “We want to make sure they have things like fruits, vegetables, proteins like peanut butter; they are very important,” remarked Wendy. “We know that even if they can’t get to the grocery store, they have protein and the basics in the house.”

Food Drive: February 15 – March 31

“This is such a special program for Comfort Keepers to bring to Roswell. Ensuring that our seniors have healthy food available at home is our duty as a community. Adding the art bag component for the Home Delivered Meals Program last year really kicked up our ability to help and was such a joyful gift to those who received the bags.” – Cindy Lewis, Owner of Comfort Keepers of Roswell, Artesia and Carlsbad

Art Bag Contest

While the Feed Seniors Now campaign has been an annual event for several years, last year the local group decided to add an art bag contest into the mix, according to Wendy, “to make it more impactful and more than ‘just a food drive.’” It is important to note, however, that the food drive and the art bag contest are two separate events benefiting two separate segments of the senior population.

As soon as Peggy Krantz heard about the art bag contest last year, she knew she wanted to jump on board. “Peggy was immediately behind us 100 percent,” Wendy beamed. “There is no way we could have launched the bag part without her!”

As artwork starting trickling in, Peggy opted to remove some of her own artwork on the walls at Main Street Arts and displayed the decorated bags instead. “I just believe that you can use art in your community to stimulate creativity and conversation about things,” she reasoned. “So we put them on the wall and then when tourists or guests come in, they ask about them and we can tell them how Roswell backs these kinds of things and supports these things! It’s so exciting!”

“I was so proud to tell tourists how Roswell supports things like this,” she continued. “It was so encouraging to see how people would buy a $10 bag, paint it and bring it back, and to know a senior would receive it and enjoy it. Who wouldn’t be excited about that!”

As appreciative as Wendy was of Peggy, the feeling seemed to be mutual. “I’m really tickled that she asked me to be a part of it. She could have asked anyone, so the fact that she asked me was so special.” Peggy said they will display the bags again this year. “I hope to fill up my whole gallery!” she exclaimed.

For a $10 donation, participants receive a brown paper bag that they are asked to take home and decorate any way they see fit. After being judged and displayed at Main Street Arts, the bags are then used to transport food to participants of the Home Delivered Meals portion of the Roswell J.O.Y. Center. According to Monica, the proceeds from the contest aid the center in purchasing the raw foods used to prepare the meals that are delivered to home-bound participants.

When broken down by the numbers, it costs approximately $10 to feed a senior for one day, which includes transportation costs for the six paid delivery drivers at the center. Meals are delivered five days a week, Monday through Friday; however, seniors who are identified as nutritionally “at risk” may qualify for evening meals and possibly meals on the weekends as well.

Wendy and Monica both hope this year’s food drive, and especially the art bag contest, fair better than last year’s. “Being a first-year program, some people were intimidated because they thought they had to be artists to participate,” Wendy admitted. “But that’s not the case. Anyone can decorate a bag. That’s why we had different categories. We just wanted each participant to have decorated bags, so we ended up decorating a lot of them ourselves since we had so many left.” Monica added, “A lot of people donated money but didn’t want to have to decorate a bag, so we turned around and decorated bags. The adult day care group decorated some as an activity, and a lot of staff, and a lot of people at the center helped out, too.”

The contest is broken down into categories, including non-professional artists, professionals, and children. “It’s just a fun way to raise awareness as well as lift the spirits of the homebound,” Wendy expressed. “It’s fun and it’s special to a senior that doesn’t get to leave their house to receive the beautiful, thoughtful bags. It brightens their day to know someone is thinking of them.”

Last year the program set a goal of 350 bags but fell short by about 100. “The idea that we didn’t meet our goal was a little hard, but we are hoping to spread the word and maybe it will pick up some momentum,” Wendy confessed. “If you think about there being 365 meals a year and we are only covering one, you can see how important it is.”

Non-Perishable Food Donations for Seniors

(Suggested Items)

• Canned Fruit (packed in light syrup)
• Individual Servings of Fruit or Applesauce
• 100% Fruit Juices (apple, grape, cranberry)
• Raisins, Prunes, Dried Mixed Fruits
• Fig Bars

• Mixed Vegetables (low sodium)
• Chickpeas, Black Beans, Baked Beans
• Canned or Stewed Tomatoes
• Jarred Salsa
• Canned Beets

• Canned Tuna, Salmon, Mackerel (packed in water)
• Canned Chicken & Canned Beef
• Peanut Butter
• Ensure® Nutrition Shakes & Protein Bars
• Canned Nuts (no salt added) and Trail Mix

• Low-sodium Soups

Whole Grains
• Brown Rice
• Instant Oatmeal (low sodium or heart healthy)
• Cream of Wheat®
• Whole Grain / Wheat Pasta
• Dry Cereals (Cheerios®, Shredded Wheat®)
• Crackers
• Muffin and Bread Mixes

• Evaporated Milk & Nonfat Dry Milk

Read More!

Read even more great stories in this edition of Focus on Roswell.
Click here for the online magazine >>>